[NFL] Pancakes In the Age of Enlightenment- Each of Us Has Our Own El Guapo

LEADING OFF

A MODEL doing COCAINE???? No…I won’t accept that. No!! Get away from me! Get away from me!!
BLEHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! (puking noise)

Welcome back to the Greatest Football Column in the World! We’re rolling into Week Three of the NFL schedule. God Bless the NFL. It is the only thing saving me from suicide as each passing day gives me another kick in the balls from the White Sox. What are some of the storylines and key questions in our Week Three matchups? Let’s find out, shall we?

ATLANTA FALCONS (1-1) AT BUFFALO BILLS (1-1)
1 PM Eastern, FOX, Bills favored by 2 1/2

The Storyline
This matchup features a pair of teams who had impressive season opening victories, only to suffer disappointing losses on the road as an encore. Both teams have defenses that are among the best in the league, and lean heavily upon their running game to move the ball. If zone blocking and pulling guards make you all tingly, this is the game for you.

Key Questions
-Can the Falcons run the ball against the Bills defense?
Yes. Last week Tampa Bay’s Cadillac Williams rolled all over the Bills for 128 yards on 24 carries. Cadillac is the Bucs’ main offensive threat. Warrick Dunn and TJ Duckett aren’t the main thing you have to worry about when playing the Falcons. Fear of QB Michael Vick’s scrambling and arm strength will occupy Buffalo’s linebackers and safeties, allowing Atlanta to run the ball effectively. The caveat is, the Falcons can’t fall behind. Last week they got behind 21-0 to Seattle and were forced out of their normal
game plan.

-Is the JP Losman Experiment failing?
I guess fail-ING is a good word. It hasn’t gone that well thus far. They pulled him in favor of Kelly Holcomb for a series last week, and that’s not a good sign. He has a bad habit of staring longingly at his primary receiver, and everyone in the stadium knows who he’s going to throw to. Tampa Bay did not respect the Bills passing game last week, and the Bills did nothing to change that opinion. They focused all their energies on shutting down Willis McGahee, and limited him to 34 yards on 13 carries. McGahee is going to get to run at a defense that surrendered 144 yards to Shaun Alexander last week. If he can approach that level of success, he’ll make Losman look a lot better. If not, Losman’s going to be wearing a Patrick Kerney suit most of the afternoon, and completing passes to guys wearing the wrong color shirt.

-What will we see out of Michael Vick in this game?
Buffalo has not faced a mobile quarterback in a long time, and did not face any last year. But that begs the question of just how mobile Vick is going to be in this game. Vick’s enchanted legs were cramping last week, forcing him out of the game for a time. He’s having an MRI done this week. If he’s in pain, then he becomes a pocket passer, and that’s not going to be pretty, especially against a secondary as good as the Bills have.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
Buffalo has won six out of their last seven home games, while Atlanta has dropped 5 in a row on the road. Buffalo went 4-0 against the NFC last year, outscoring its opposition 154-47 in those games. There seem to be a lot of intangible factors working in the Bills’ favor in this game. I think Atlanta’s defense lost some confidence last week when Alexander ran all over them. They won’t get a breather this week when they face the bruising McGahee. Last year, another bruiser, Deuce McAllister, rushed for 100 and 128 yards in two meetings with Atlanta.

BILLS 20, FALCONS 16

Time And Punishment-Looking Ahead
– Bills Win:The Bills will prepare to travel to San Antonio to meet the Saints and try and run their record to 3-1.

– Bills Lose: The Bills go to San Antonio staring down the barrel of a 1-3 start. Upstate New York screaming for Losman’s head on a pike, pining for Drew Bledsoe.

– Falcons Win- The Seahawk loss a bygone bump in the road, the Falcons’ come home for date with the Vikings, with a 3-1 start a given.

– Falcons Lose: The glow of Atlanta’s season opening win over Philly will have evaporated in the heat of a 2 game losing streak and a 1-2 record. They’ll try to refocus and prepare to take on the struggling Vikings at home, fighting off question after question about Vick’s health.


Lost-man?

CAROLINA PANTHERS (1-1) AT MIAMI DOLPHINS (1-1)
1 PM Eastern, FOX, Panthers favored by 3

The Storyline
Carolina played the role of the Russian hockey team perfectly in losing their season opener at home to the Saints, but rebounded to upset the Patriots last week. They go on the road for the first time this season, and will meet a hard nosed Dolphins team. The Dolphins were one of the surprises of week one, blowing out the Broncos at home, but their offense bogged down last week against the archrival Jets, and they lost a hard fought 17-7 decision at the Meadowlands.

Key Questions
-Which is the real Miami offense?
Probably the bad one, the one you saw last week against the Jets. They actually have a few weapons in the passing game. Chris Chambers, Marty Booker, David Boston, and Randy McMichael can all make things happen and Gus Frerotte has the arm strength to get them the ball. But this team has absolutely no running game. It is just about impossible to win if you don’t have a running back who can get you 70-80 yards rushing a game most of the time, and the Dolphins don’t have that. Their best bet is to incorporate some razzle dazzle and find a way to get the ball in the hands of their most talented guys, who all happen to be receivers. Whether that’s running screens, or reverses, hook and ladder plays, dog and pony shows, the Aristocrats, whatever, they’ve got to do it. It can’t be worse then putting your offense in the hands of Auburn’s backup running back from last year.

-What’s wrong with Jake Delhomme?
He’s missing Muhsin Muhammad a lot more than the Panthers thought he would. Delhomme has thrown 1 TD pass and 3 interceptions so far this year, and has looked flustered. Last week he got all snippy with one of his own defensive players, who was trying to offer encouragement coming off the field after one of those interceptions. Carolina was counting on Rod Gardner to step up and be a second target for Jake after Steve Smith. So far Rod Gardner has stepped up and done nothing. Jake has reason to be unhappy right now. He’s not going to have an easy time with Miami’s defense either, they shut down Chad Pennington and Jake Plummer, two QBs about at Delhomme’s level, in their first two games.

-Can Stephen Davis keep this up all year?
No of course he can’t. Davis is old and injury prone, and the Panthers are riding him like he’s Walter Payton in his prime or something. DeShaun Foster is the backup, but if he was going to be any good, he would have been good by now. Right now the Panthers are mortgaging the last month of their season by giving Davis 25 carries like they did last week. Maybe that douchebag that took Nick Goings at your Fantasy Draft isn’t as stupid as he looks. But he probably is.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
The Dolphins played NFC opponents tough last year. They were 2-2 against the NFC, and 2-10 against the AFC. They’ve also won three in a row at home. They’ve got some factors working in their favor here. However, when I look at the teams that beat Carolina last year, they don’t fit Miami’s profile. Last year they lost to Atlanta twice, New Orleans, Denver, and Philadelphia, and have lost again to New Orleans this year. Carolina gets beat by teams with scrambling, mobile quarterbacks that can get away from their pass rush. Miami’s got an offense that’s closer to New England’s (although not nearly as good), centered around a power running game and pass plays that target the wideouts, and we saw the Panthers be very effective against the Patriots last week. Gus Frerotte is going to have problems keeping upright, and the Dolphins have no running game to alleviate the pressure.

PANTHERS 20, DOLPHINS 10

Time And Punishment-Looking Ahead

-Panthers Win: It’s payback time. The Panthers get ready to run their record to 3-1 before an MNF audience when the Packers Funeral Procession comes to town, and the Panthers have vengeance of last season’s opening Monday Night loss at home to Green Bay on their minds.

-Panthers Lose: “Weren’t we supposed to be good this year?” Carolina’s off to another bad start at 1-2, and fan apathy runs wild as a Monday Night game at home awaits.

– Dolphins Win: Break out the plaid pants and berets, the Dolphins are goin’ golfin next Sunday. They have a bye, they are 2-1 and the surprise team of the league, and Nick Saban’s a genius.

– Dolphins Lose: Team gets much needed week off to contemplate how they need to get back to where they were when they beat the Broncos in the season opener.

OAKLAND RAIDERS (0-2) AT PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (1-1)
1 PM Eastern, CBS, Eagles favored by 7 1/2

The Storyline
TO vs. Randy Moss…EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!! EEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!! Lubricant sales in Bristol, CT go through the roof!

Key Questions
– Can we downgrade the TO Meltdown Warning Level from Orange to Yellow?
Yes. Once the season starts, winning is all it takes to keep people happy. In the offseason, there’s lots of downtime for agents to get in a player’s ear, for the seeds of discontent to be planted. Once Labor Day is over though, all that stops and all that matters is scoring touchdowns and winning games. Terrell Owens, for his faults, loves football and loves being good at football. If the Eagles are winning and he’s getting 100 yards and a touchdown a game, he’s going to be happy. The way things have looked so far, he’ll be pretty happy this year.

– Do the Raiders have any chance at all in this game?
No. A team that relies on the “Vertical Passing Game” TM as the key element of their offense has no chance against the Eagles. Their safeties are too good and the only way to move the ball against them is with a quick passing game that takes advantages of holes left open by their blitzes. Offensively, the Raiders are supposed to be the Vikings now, right? That’s great, because that gives us TWO meetings between the Eagles and Vikings last year to draw comparisons. In the first meeting, Daunte Culpepper was effective, completing 37 of 47 for 343 yards, but he only averaged 6.5 yards per pass. That means it was dink and dunk all day long. Randy Moss had 8 catches for 69 yards in that game. Minnesota had a little more success in the second game, an NFC Divisional playoff meeting. Culpepper was able to find his tertiary receiver, Marcus Robinson, for 5 completions and 119 yards. Moss was held largely in check for 3 catches and 51 yards. Philadelphia knows how to keep Moss under control, and if Oakland can’t utilize their best weapon, they don’t have a chance.

– Are the Eagles the favorites in the NFC at this point?
Yes. I know, I know, the Falcons beat them, but the Falcons came out the next week and lost to Seattle. Atlanta is one team inside their dome, another when they’re on the road. Philadelphia came very close to taking Atlanta’s best shot, on the road, and beating them. Then they beat the 49ers like they play in a different league. Philadelphia plays in a weak division, which is going to allow them to pad their win total and land home field advantage. Atlanta, meanwhile, plays in a tough NFC South division in which all 3 of their rivals are capable of beating them. That means Philly should be able to land home field, and that means a return trip to the Super Bowl.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
Since their Super Bowl XXXVII appearance, the Raiders are 2-15 on the road. Philadelphia isn’t the place to make that 3-15. Philadelphia’s safeties, Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis, should be able to hold Moss in check. Oakland’s defense played very well last week against Kansas City, but their defense isn’t going to win them games, it can only not lose them games. If the offense can’t bring it home, the Raiders have no chance, and I don’t see the Raiders being able to do their thing this week against the Eagles.

EAGLES 30, RAIDERS 13

Time And Punishment-Looking Ahead
-Raiders Win: A shocking upset win on the road against the defending NFC Champs puts the Raiders at 1-2, with the Cowboys coming into town in week four. A rough start, but things are back on track.

-Raiders Lose: Well, the bringing in Randy Moss thing didn’t work. The Raiders are 0-3, speculation is starting to stir about Norv Turner’s job, and creepy Al Davis keeps getting creepier.

– Eagles Win: The Eagles hold serve at home against teams they should beat, and have momentum heading into a showdown on the road with the Kansas City Chiefs.

-Eagles Lose: Eagles are 1-2, with 1-3 a real possibility. TO is back to being a Bridezilla. Dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria.


In Oakland, Every Day is Guy Fawkes Day

TENNESSEE TITANS (1-1) AT ST. LOUIS RAMS (1-1)
1 PM Eastern, CBS, Rams favored by 6 1/2

The Storyline
These two teams are forever linked by the classic Super Bowl of January 2000, the last Super Bowl played before the world went to hell in a handbasket, and the Patriots swooped in to capture the last remaining Lombardi Trophies before the world comes to its merciful end. 5 ½ years later, nobody expects either of these teams to return to the Super Bowl, but they are both competitive teams who have realistic hopes of making the playoffs.

Key Questions
– Is Travis Henry the guy at running back now for Tennessee?
I think the Titans want him to be. Henry is the leading rusher in Tennessee Volunteers history, and I think the fans would love for him to be the team’s feature back. It makes sense, he is bigger than Chris Brown and withstand the pounding of carrying 20-25 times a game. Brown, meanwhile, is better suited to be a change of pace back who uses his speed to create matchup problems for the defense. A reduced workload would give him a better chance of staying healthy.

-Why is the Rams offense sputtering?
They are sputtering because the offensive line has been terrible. They gave up seven sacks in the season opener against the Niners, and 4 in last week’s win against Arizona. This line is showing its age. Guards Tom Nutten and Adam Timmerman are both 34, and center Andy McCollum is 35. Right tackle Blaine Saipaia is young but bad. The Rams tried to upgrade by drafting tackle Alex Barron in the first round, but he held out and is not ready to see the field. This is going to be a problem area all year.

– Did our civilization really reach its peak the year these teams made the Super Bowl, 1999, just like they said in “The Matrix”?
Yes. This decade has been the worst post-Depression decade in American history outside of the 1970s, and at least the 70s had good music. At the rate we’re regressing, by 2010 we’ll all be wearing bird beak masks and flagellating ourselves.

HERES YOUR FORECAST
The Rams were 1-3 against the AFC last year, so keep that in mind. At the same time, they were 6-2 at home, versus 2-6 on the road. As evidenced by the performance they put forth in San Francisco in Week One, they are clearly a different team on their home turf than they are on the road. Tennessee was 0-3 and outscored 102-48 in its 3 games on artificial turf last year. The Titans dropped Anthony Wright 7 times in last week’s game with the Ravens, and the way the Rams line has been playing that’s not good news for Marc Bulger. The Titans also held Jamal Lewis to 9 yards rushing last week, after giving up 161 to Willie Parker the week before. Tennessee definitely can win this game, I just don’t think they will. If this game is in Nashville, I would say Titans in a walk. It’s in St. Louis though, and it’s the Rams home opener. The Rams are 5-1 in home openers since they got good. In the last 3 years, they’ve lost only ONE game at home to a team that plays their home games on grass, and that was to last year’s Patriots. The Titans ain’t last year’s Patriots.

RAMS 30, TITANS 20

Time And Punishment-Looking Ahead
-Titans Win: Salary cap hell, Shmalary cap hell. The Titans are 2-1 and beat the erstwhile Greatest Show on Turf in their own house a week after busting down the Ravens’ chamber doors. The Colts come to Nashville in Week Four with first place in the AFC South on the line.

-Titans Lose: The early schedule has been tough, leaving the Titans at 1-2. It isn’t getting any easier with the Colts coming to town, but a win at home against the division favorites can inject life into the Titans’ season.

-Rams Win: Home, sweet dome. The Rams continue their dominance at the Edward James Almos Dome, and take a 2-1 record into the Meadowlands a tussle with the Giants.

– Rams Lose: A 1-2 start with 2 losses to teams that were supposed to be at the bottom of the league this year. The Rams stagger into the Meadowlands to face a Giants team that has owned them the last few years in their head to head meetings.

CLEVELAND BROWNS (1-1) AT INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (2-0)
1 PM Eastern, CBS, Colts favored by 13 1/2
The Storyline
For the second week in a row, the Browns venture into a venue that has a reputation for being inhospitable to visitors. They hope to put another notch in their belts after stunning the Packers at Lambeau Field last week. They’ll have to contend with a Colts team that seemingly has assembled a defense that rivals their high powered offense. Peyton Manning put up merely human numbers against two tough defenses in Baltimore and Jacksonville, and now he’s ready to perform surgery on a supposedly weaker Browns defense.

Key Questions
– When is Peyton Manning going to start playing like PEYTON MANNING?
This week seems like as good a time as any. The Browns have given up 662 passing yards in 2 games so far this year. Given that fact, I like Peyton’s chances of breaking out this week. That said, he is facing the bane of his NFL existence thus far, former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. Very interesting.

– What got into Trent Dilfer last week?
Dilfer had one of his best games ever against Green Bay last week, completing 21 of 32 for 336 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. The key thing to remember here is that he did it against the Packers. The Packers pass defense at this point in the season looks unfathomably bad. They have made two borderline starter quarterbacks, Dilfer and Joey Harrington, look like a million bucks. Indianapolis, meanwhile, has crippled two quarterbacks in two games with their relentless pass rush. Dilfer is going to have a long day this Sunday.

– Are the Colts going to the Super Bowl?
At this point, yes. As long as they can maintain the best record in the AFC, and secure home field advantage, I think you have to say they will. However, 4 out of their next 5 games are on the road, so it won’t be easy to do that.

HERES YOUR FORECAST
No need to pull out any argle bargle or foofarah to make a prediction here. The Colts will get the lead out of their passing game against the Browns, and the defense is going to use Trent Dilfer for target practice. Much like the 49ers came back to horrible reality after an upset win over the Rams, look for the same to happen to the Browns this week.

COLTS 47, BROWNS 10

Time And Punishment-Looking Ahead
-Browns Win: Two colossal upsets in a row on the road, and Browns fans are higher than Macy Gray singing “The Jeffersons” theme song on Emmy Night. Sun rises in the west Monday morning. The Browns get 2 weeks to savor their 2-1 start.

-Browns Lose: Browns go into the bye week realizing they have work to do, but encouraged by a good start. They prepare for a winnable game at home against the Bears in Week Five.

-Colts Win: Colts take a 3-0 record into a key divisional road game at Tennessee in Week Four.

-Colts Lose: Loss at home to a team they have no business losing to deals a serious blow to home field advantage and thus Super Bowl hopes. Peyton Manning benched for Jim Sorgi. Edgerrin James benched for Eric Dickerson. Tony Dungy replaced by returning Jim Mora Sr. PLAYOFFS!?!?!?!?

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (1-1) AT MINNESOTA VIKINGS (0-2)
1 PM Eastern, FOX, Vikings favored by 4

The Storyline
The Vikings’ 2005 goose is cooked if they lose this game. They have looked unequivocally awful in the first two games of the year, and another loss and an 0-3 start will be more rain on the mudslide of the slippery slope to hell. The Saints endeared themselves to the nation in winning their season opening game against Carolina, then pissed everyone off by bitching about the NFL making a Super Bowl like production out of their second game. So they’ve gone from America’s plucky underdogs to ungrateful bastards in one week’s time. Way to seize the opportunity.

Key Questions
– Is Daunte Culpepper TRYING to suck?
To my knowledge, no. Still, it’s not easy to throw 8 interceptions in two weeks. I mean, the other team actually has to catch the ball 8 times, and you presumably are not even trying to throw the ball to them.

– How ugly will this game be?
Very. Consider this: Last week the Vikings turned the ball over 7 times, and the Saints turned the ball over six times. The team that manages to screw up the least will be the team that wins this game.

– What can the Vikings do to not suck so bad?
They can do what they did last year in Week 6, when they beat the Saints 38-31 in the erstwhile Superdome. Culpepper threw for 425 yards and 5 TDs in that game. What they did in that game was something they have not come close to doing this year, and that is to effectively utilize their running backs. In that game, Mewelde Moore not only carried 15 times for 109 yards, but was Culpepper’s favorite target, with 7 catches for 78 yards. This opened up the downfield passing game. Nate Burleson had 6 catches for 134 yards, and Marcus Robinson had 2 touchdowns. This year, there’s a problem. Not only is there no Randy Moss, but there probably won’t be Nate Burleson either as he is expected to miss the game with a knee ligament injury. To replace him, Mike Tice has said that, get this, KOREN ROBINSON is going to play a role in the offense this week. Oh no you di’int girlfriend.

HERES YOUR FORECAST
It may shock you to learn that the Vikings’ did not just start being bad this year. They have actually lost 6 out of their last 7 regular season games going back to last year. The Saints, meanwhile, have won five out of their last six, and four of those five wins have come outside of New Orleans. The Vikings have allowed 146 and 167 yards rushing in 2 games this year, and the Saints can limit their mistakes by having Deuce McAllister get some of that. I think the misery continues in Minnesota.

SAINTS 27, VIKINGS 23

Time And Punishment-Looking Ahead
-Saints Win- The biggest story of the 05 season regains momentum after the Saints right the ship and improve to 2-1. The eyes of the national sports media will be on them as they prepare for their first “home”game in San Antonio, against the Bills.

-Saints Lose- The Saints start 1-2, but it doesn’t detract from the curiosity of seeing the Saints get ready to play in the Alamo Dome. Aaron Brooks makes repeated demands that the Saints not be patronized.

-Vikings Win- Disaster is averted for now, and the Vikings crack their first nut of the season. Good thing, too, because a trip to Atlanta awaits in Week Four.

-Vikings Lose- The Vikings are 0-3, with 0-4 a virtual certainty. Good thing the Vikings only pay Mike Tice 12 bucks an hour, it will soften the blow for him when the checks stop coming.


Can’t…Stop….Sucking…

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (1-1) AT NY JETS (1-1)
1PM Eastern, CBS, Jets favored by 2 1/2
The Storyline
Two teams that figure to be battling for wild card spots at the end of the year face off in a key matchup. The Jaguars have shown us so far this year that they have a very stingy defense, and almost pulled off an upset of the Colts on the road last week. The Jets have shown us they can struggle to a win over the Dolphins at home.

Key Questions
– Has age finally caught up with Curtis Martin?
It would seem so up to this point. In the first two games of this season, Martin has carried 51 times for 129 yards. That’s an average of a little over 2.5 yards a carry, and that’s not so good. He faces a Jags defense this week that is very good, but has had some trouble stopping the run this season. Seattle averaged 5.1 yards a carry against them in Week One, and the Colts averaged 5.3 last week. The Jets will need Martin to post similar numbers to win this game. He underwent an MRI on his knee this week which didn’t show any severe injuries. He probably will play on Sunday, but you might see a lot more of Derrick Blaylock.

-What is Byron Leftwich’s status for this Sunday?
Leftwich has been hampered by a sore groin. Thanks to an intense program of deep tissue groin massages, he should be able to go on Sunday. The program is intense I tells you. Groin massages. Intense.

-How will losing safety Donovan Darius for the season affect the Jags defense?
The loss is significant. Darius, who tore his ACL against the Colts and is out for the season, was one of the best strong safeties in the game and a vital component of the team’s run defense. His replacement, Deke Cooper, is several notches below Darius’ ability level.

HERES YOUR FORECAST
These teams haven’t met since 2003, and that game was a defensive struggle, as this one probably will be. In that game, Fred Taylor ran for 119 yards, but the Jaguars lost with an inexperienced Leftwich completing only 17 of 33 passes. The winner of this game will be the team that can run the ball most effectively. The Jets run defense is suspect, but they’ve only allowed a 100 yard rusher once in their last ten games. The Jaguars have been held under 10 points in 4 of their last 6 regular season games, and that’s just bloody awful. The Jaguars are banged up, the Jets are at home, so I like the Jets in this one.

JETS 17, JAGUARS 16

Time And Punishment-Looking Ahead
-Jags Win: A huge win on the road against a fellow wild card contender sets the Jags up nicely at 2-1, with back to back home games on deck.

-Jags Lose: With a loss to the Jets on their record, the next two games at home against Denver, and Cincinnati, two more teams that will be in the playoff chase, will make or break the season.

-Jets Win: The season opening loss to KC was embarrassing, but the Jets rebound with two straight home wins. They take their show on the road in Week Four, meeting a reeling Baltimore team.

-Jets Lose: A 1-2 start puts the Jets behind the 8 ball. Included in their next 4 games are trips to Baltimore, Buffalo, and Atlanta, all of which could be losses. The season could get out of hand in a hurry if the Jets don’t win this game.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (2-0) AT GREEN BAY PACKERS (0-2)
1 PM Eastern, FOX, Bucs favored by 3 1/2

The Storyline
The Packers have not started 0-3 in a long, long time. Since Brett Favre came to Northern Wisconsin, it has never happened. With the 2-0 Bucs coming to Lambeau Field on Sunday, that 0-3 start looms as a real possibility. The Bucs, meanwhile, have looked great in both of their first 2 games, and have been one of the most pleasant surprises of this young season. Jon Gruden has made this his team, not Tony Dungy’s team, and the results are good. This is Gruden’s third year with the Bucs. His first two seasons in Oakland produced 8-8 records, his third season they went 12-4. In hindsight, we should have seen a Bucs renaissance coming.

Key Questions
– What’s the best thing about this matchup?
The best thing about this matchup is that now that Warren Sapp is gone from the Bucs we won’t need to hear Brian Baldinger go on and on for three hours about how gay Sapp and Favre are for each other, and won’t have to watch them make out with each other after the game.

– What’s the main reason the Packers have been so awful?
The defense just sucks with a capital S. They have made Joey Harrington and Trent Dilfer look like viable NFL starting quarterbacks, and that’s not that easy to do. I mean, God Bless America, how do you let Trent Dilfer throw for 336 yards and 3 touchdowns against you? The Buccaneers have a lot more weapons at their disposal than the Browns do, so the Pack should be very afraid.

– Is Jon Gruden abusing Cadillac Williams by giving him the ball too much?
Cadillac is on a pace to have around 400 carries this year, compared to carrying 239 times all season at Auburn last year. He’s already hampered by an injured foot, so it would probably behoove Gruden to take his foot off the gas pedal with this young man and give Michael Pittman some more carries. We should be thankful for having Cadillac in this game though, because it saves us from having to watch The Battle of the Wife Beating Running Backs (Pittman and Ahman Green).

HERES YOUR FORECAST
An interesting stat I found, and one that I think needs to be taken into account, is that the Bucs have lost 9 in a row as visitors on natural grass. Under Gruden, their away record on grass is 2-9, while their away record on turf is 4-2. I think that’s a significant difference. However, the last time these teams met, in 2003, Brett Favre completed only 13 of 28 passes for 92 yards. The Packers were able to win that game because they got 109 yards out of Green and 70 yards out of Najeh Davenport. The Green Bay running game has been anemic this year though, and the Tampa Bay run defense is much improved, as evidenced by their holding Willis McGahee to 34 yards rushing last week. Favre has never matched up well against the Tampa defense, and with things going as bad as they are for Green Bay, that probably won’t change in this game.

BUCS 27, PACKERS 20

Time And Punishment-Looking Ahead
-Bucs Win: The 3-0 Bucs are most definitely back! They return to their giant pirate ship to await the Detroit Lions, giving them a very good chance to get 4-0.

-Bucs Lose: Following a disappointing loss at Lambeau, the Bucs return home looking to get well against the Lions and complete the first quarter of the season with a 3-1 record.

-Packers Win: You can hold off on the Packer funeral for another week. They came up with a huge home win against unbeaten Tampa, and will travel to Carolina for a Monday Night game looking to even their record.

-Packers Lose: Packers are 0-3, with 0-4 in the mail. Meet me at the back of the blue bus. This is the end.

CINCINNATI BENGALS (2-0) AT CHICAGO BEARS (1-1)
1 PM Easter, CBS, Bengals favored by 3
The Storyline
After a comatose performance in week one against the Redskins, the Bears unleashed a perfect storm of offense, defense, and special teams to bury the Lions 38-6 last week. They are going to need all of those cylinders clicking against a Bengals team that has finally found a quarterback, and has looked like one of the league’s strongest teams in the early going.

Key Questions
– What got into the Bears last week?
The Bears dominated the way they did because they were able to force the Lions into making mistakes, namely getting five interceptions off of Joey Harrington. Carson Palmer will throw the occasional INT too, so look for the Bears to try to pressure him into making mistakes. The Bengals offense is heavily dependent on throwing to the wide receivers. The Bears have a couple of good young corners in Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman, so the Bengals may experience some frustration in that area.

– Can the Bears continue to win with a rookie quarterback?
I don’t see why not. They won three in a row with Craig Krenzel at quarterback last year and he was not only a rookie but he sucked on top of it. Kyle Orton actually has talent, so yes, the Bears can compete with a rookie under center.

– Where do the Bengals rank in the AFC pecking order?
I think they still have a lot to prove. They haven’t really beaten anybody good yet this year, and the game this week will be a big test for them. Their offense can match up with anybody’s, but their defense looks a little shaky to me. I definitely do not think they are as good as Pittsburgh, New England, Indianapolis, or Kansas City. But they do fit right in that second tier of teams that will be fighting for the final 2 playoff spots, the Jacksonvilles, Buffalos, Jets, San Diegos, and Denvers of the world.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
The Bears were 1-3 against AFC teams last year, and that included a 20 point loss at Jacksonville, a 19 point loss at home to Houston, and a 41-10 lambasting at home to the Colts. The Bengals, meanwhile, were a perfect 4-0 against the NFC last year, versus 4-8 against the AFC. They also already own a 37-8 pasting of the Vikings, a team from the Bears’ division. You have to look at these things because, at this point, the AFC is much, much deeper in good teams than the NFC is. Also, I think the team that the Bengals are most similar to is the Colts. Last year the Bears surrendered 204 rushing yards to Edgerrin James in the 41-10 loss, and 275 yards on the ground in total. Washington showed in week one that the run defense hasn’t improved all that much, so I think the Bengals should be able to bash the Bears with Rudi Johnson, then go up top for Chad Johnson and TJ Housmandzadeh. I think the Bengals will win with relative ease.

BENGALS 27, BEARS 10

Time And Punishment-Looking Ahead
Bengals Win- After a million years of being lousy, the Bengals have Ickey Shuffled their way to a 3-0 start. They look forward to drilling the Texans at home in Week 4 to make it 4-0.

Bengals Lose- Having failed their road test, the Bengals return home to lick their wounds and try to improve their record to 3-1.

Bears Win- The Bears have a winning record for the first time since week 4 of 2002, ticker tape parade down State Street next Sunday since there’s a bye.

Bears Lose- The Bears glacial rebuilding plan leaves them at 1-2 going into the bye week. Week Five trip to Cleveland looms as a must win.

DALLAS COWBOYS (1-1) AT SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (1-1)
4:05 PM Eastern, FOX, Cowboys favored by 6 1/2
The Storyline
Bill Parcells’ Cowboys apparently have a little White Sox in ’em. They had an unfathomable collapse in the last 4 minutes of last Monday’s game against the Redskins, turning a 13-0 win into a 14-13 loss. They head to San Francisco, whose star linebacker Julian Peterson has “guaranteed” a victory in this game. Guaranteeing a victory after absorbing a 42-3 ass reaming takes some major sackage.

Key Questions
– What impact will blowing that game have on the Cowboys’ season?
It will have a huge impact. In an unsuccessful season in any sport, you can usually pinpoint the exact moment when everything went to shit, and nothing was ever the same after that. For the White Sox, I like to point to their getting swept at home by the Angels in a series they saw as a test of where they stood against their potential playoff rivals. From that point on, they have played with zero confidence, and it’s nto surprising. For an NFL example, you can point to the Seahawks of last year, who got off to a 3-0 start, and were well on their way to 4-0, holding a 27-10 lead over the Rams at home with under 9 minutes left to play, only to lose 33-27 in overtime. After that, a team that had been thinking Super Bowl went 6-6 the rest of the way and got bounced in the first round of the playoffs on that same field by those same Rams. The Cowboys giving up two Hail Mary touchdowns in the last 4 minutes to a team that would have trouble scoring a touchdown if you let them play with 15 guys, and also happens to be your archrival, on your home field, on Monday Night, is a season killer. Prove me wrong.

– Where does anyone playing for the Niners get off guaranteeing anything except another loss?
How should I know? You’re talking to a guy that has to put a towel over his lap when he’s driving in the rain because his driver’s side window is busted, and I have an MBA. America is the land of OPPORTUNITY baby! The opportunity to be in mountainous debt for the rest of your life and beyond!

– How long before Alex Smith is reinstated as the Niners QB?
I would say about week eight. The Niners should probably put him on the Eli plan. Let him sit and learn for the first half, take his lumps in the second, and hopefully be a serviceable starting quarterback in 2006.

HERES YOUR FORECAST
The Cowboys usually beat the teams they should beat, and lose to the teams they shouldn’t. That’s been turned on its head this year so far, with a road win against the Chargers, and a home loss to the Redskins. When the Niners got drilled last year, they usually came back to play a pretty tight game the next week. They followed up a 34-0 loss to Seattle with a 24-14 loss to the Rams, a 35-3 loss to Tampa with a 24-17 loss to Miami, and a 41-7 loss to Buffalo with 21-7 loss to New England. So they improve the next week, but they still lose. The interesting thing is that all 3 times they WON in their second game following their blowout loss. So the Niners are a mortal lock to win next week, and to lose by seven this week.

COWBOYS 20, NINERS 13

Time And Punishment-Looking Ahead
Cowboys Win: A much needed win washes the awful taste of the Redskins’ loss out the Cowboy’s mouths for now. They return to the Bay Area in Week 4 to face the Raiders, with a chance to go 3-1.

Cowboys Lose: Which way does water go down the toilet in the Northern Hemisphere? That’s the way the Cowboys are going, they will go home for a few days then fly back to the Bay, in a blue funk all the while.

Niners Win: A 2-1 start and Mike Nolan is a certified Miracle Worker, certified by the American Association of Miracle Workers. The test is not easy, you have to turn water into a porn magazine.

Niners Lose: The Niners are off to a tough 1-2 start, but have showed grit, moxy, and chutzpah. They travel to Arizona trying to beat the Cards for the 3rd consecutive time and even their record at 2-2 before the Colts come to town and destroy them.

ARIZONA CARDINALS (0-2) AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (1-1)
4:15 PM Eastern, FOX, Seahawks favored by 6 1/2
The Storyline
Seattle got a tough win that it absolutely had to have at home against the Falcons last week. With the struggling Cardinals coming to town, they have a chance to get themselves to 2-1 and position themselves as the team to beat in the NFC West.

Key Questions
– Are these the same old Cardinals?
Yeah it really is starting to look like same shit, different year for this team. They can’t run the ball to save their lives and if they can’t do that it’s only a matter of time before Kurt Warner gets killed. I can’t believe the new uniforms didn’t make them good, I was sure they would.

– What does Arizona need to do to win this game?
They can pull Emmit Smith out of the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor and suit him up. In last year’s Week 7 victory over Seattle, Smith carried 26 times for 106 yards and a touchdown and was the biggest reason the Cardinals won that game. I’m thinking that won’t be easy to do though.

– You know what really depresses me?
That Mike Holmgren has already been coaching the Seahawks for like 10 years now. I demand to know where my life has gone.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
Arizona is 1-20 in their last 21 away games. What else do you really need to know?

SEATTLE 27, ARIZONA 16

Time And Punishment-Looking Ahead
-Cards Win: The Cardinals needed a win badly, and a road win over last year’s division champs is even better. With the Niners coming to Tempe in Week 4, there’s a great chance to go 2-2 to start the season, making playoff hopes realistic.

-Cards Lose: Despite all the offseason hype, the Cardinals are still bad. They come home with an 0-3 record and hope to begin the long climb back with 3 consecutive home games.

-Seahawks Win: The Hawks start their make-or-break season 2-1, which is a good thing because they now face 2 difficult road games at Washington and St. Louis.

-Seahawks Lose: With a 1-2 record, and 1-4 looking like a likely scenario, the Mike Holmgren/Matt Hasselbeck era appears to be reaching its end.


Hey, Uh, Emmitt, Any Chance You Want to Put the Angry Bird Helmet Back On?

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (1-1) AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS (2-0)
4:15 PM, CBS, Steelers favored by 3
The Storyline
If you’re a football fan, it doesn’t get any better than this. A rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game, and probably the two best teams in the NFL last year. If you’re not a football fan, then why the hell are you reading this? Is it because of my delightfully dry wit? I knew it! I love you.

Key Questions
-Which Ben Roethlisberger are we going to get in this game? The one that threw 3 INT’s in the AFC Championship game, or the one that completed 18 of 24 and threw no INT’s when the Steelers beat the Pats in the regular season?

From all indications so far this season, you’re going to get the Ben that effectively managed the game, and led the Steelers to a 34-20 victory in Week 8 last season. So far this year, Big Ben has completed 23 of 35 passes for 4 TDs and NO interceptions. He’s the key to this game, and if he plays like he’s played the first two weeks of the season, the Steelers are going to win this game.

-Corey Dillon has sucked out loud so far this year, will he be any better this week?
No. Even in last year’s AFC Championship game, the piece de resistance of the Patriots’ season last year, Dillon only averaged 3 yards a carry. He had trouble running against the Raiders, how’s that gonna work out against one of the NFL’s best run defenses?

– How do you know something’s not right with the Patriots?
So far this year, they trail in turnover margin, 3 to 2. It’s not like the efficient, robut-like Patriots to turn the ball over more than their opposition.

HERES YOUR FORECAST
If you can’t look forward to this game, stop watching football. The two best teams in the world slugging it out, on a beautiful late September day in Western Pennsylvania is what it’s all about. In last year’s title game, the Patriots were able to shut down Roethlisberger because they were able to stop the Steelers running game. How come the Patriots were able to shut down the league’s best running attack? They were facing a Bus that by that point had run out of gas. Jerome Bettis led the Steelers with 64 yards on 17 carries in that game. Stephen Davis ran all over the Patriots last week, and Willie Parker has been a revelation for the Steelers. Roethlisberger is a year wiser, and Sunday is the day the Steelers make their statement.

STEELERS 31, PATRIOTS 20

Time And Punishment-Looking Ahead
Pats Win: Phew. A win in the house of the #1 contenders alleviates the pressure on the Patriots for one week. They come back to Foxboro to take on the Chargers in Week Four.

Pats Lose: Maybe the naysayers who said winning 3 Super Bowls in a row was impossible were right. The Patriots are 1-2. But they also started 1-2 in 2001, and we know what happened that year. No we don’t? Okay they won the Super Bowl. Do I have to draw pictures? Fine.

Steelers Win: The Steelers avenge their playoff loss, are 3-0, and are the unquestioned class of the league. They head into the bye week and all is right in their world.

Steelers Lose: Roethlisberger starts to hear the questions Peyton Manning has been hearing for 50 years. “Why can’t you beat the Patriots?”

NY GIANTS (2-0) AT SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (0-2)
8:30 PM Eastern, ESPN, Chargers favored by 5 1/2
The Storyline
It’s the Eli Manning Bowl. Manning, as you may or may not know, was drafted first overall last year by the CHARGERS, not the Giants. Eli put on his Chargers jersey and smiled for pictures like he had just received a box of shit for Christmas, said he would never sign with the Chargers, and forced a trade to the Giants.

Key Questions
– How will Eli be received by the Ch rger fans?
You don’t want to make a SAN DIEGO fan mad. You’ll hear a lot of “Dude, you’re bogus, Boo”, then they’ll throw sushi at him.

– When is LaDanian Tomlinson going to stop running like he plays for the Browns or something?
Maybe not this week. The Giants did a great job of bottling up Deuce McAllister last week, holding him to only 47 yards on 15 carries, and the Saints to only 3.3 yards per carry. The Giants’ run defense looks a LOT better than it did toward the end of last year, when Clinton Portis, Jerome Bettis, Chester Taylor, and Julius Jones all ran for over 100 yards against them in 4 of the last 5 games of the season.

-Does Drew Brees suck again now?
The Chargers 0-2 start isn’t all his fault. But, believe you me, if the Chargers start off 0-3 fingers are going to start to be pointed, and you will start to hear a coalition of douchebags chirping about how Philip Rivers should get his chance to lead the Chargers out of their funk. Brees struggled against last week a Denver defense that got carved up by Gus Frerotte in Week One, so he’s not blameless either.

HERES YOUR FORECAST
The Giants were 1-3 last year against the AFC, and 1-5 on grass, versus 5-5 on artificial turf. That should teach them not to smoke weed before playing. The Chargers got off to a bad start last year, too. They were 1-2 to start the season. That second loss was a 23-13 loss in Denver, the same place they lost last week, ironically enough. They came back the next week to drill the Titans at home 38-17. I expect a similar effort from the Bolts this week.

CHARGERS 30, GIANTS 17

Time And Punishment-Looking Ahead
Giants Win- A 3-0 start and the Giants are the toast of the Big Apple and its surrounding environs. They prepare to host the Rams, who they have owned in recent years, and hope to make it 4-0.

Giants Lose- The Giants come home after a loss in their first real road game of the year, and hope to continue their recent success against the Rams and improve to 3-1.

Chargers Win- The Chargers needed a victory badly against the Giants. They’ll go into Foxboro in Week 4 hoping to avoid 1-3.

Chargers Lose- Well, looks like the Chargers were a one year wonder. They go to New England in Week 4, then host Pittsburgh in Week 5, so the odds are we’re looking at an 0-5 start.

PIMPS UP HOS DOWN
That’s it for this week. Check back on Monday to see how all this turned out, in my new Monday column Monday Morning Pancakes

In the meantime, check out Patrick, who has assigned me the role of Man At Arms in our version of Masters of the Universe. As long as I’m not Orko it’s all good.

Todd Rogers says Marcel Shipp is a decent running back. I’m going to have to go ahead and disagree there.

Steve Price’s preview of the Chase for the Championship is a helmet throwin’ good time!

Eugene Tierney reports that Ray Durham is going to pick up his $7 Million option for next year. Ray Durham. Is making 7 million dollars. I think it is time to take up arms.

Fin.